Longview native brings Neil Diamond’s music to his hometown
As part of his Seattle-Longview-Portland mini-tour, Longview native and musician Chris Waggoner will bring his Neil Diamond tribute show, “Play Me,” to Longview’s Columbia Theatre on July 26.
Area residents may remember Waggoner, a 1980 Mark Morris High School graduate, who has worn many musical “hats.” He sang in the Studio One Singers, King’s Chorale and the school’s concert choir. His mother, Elaine Edwards, owned the Stella Tavern, then a lively music venue, where Waggoner played piano bar, ran the talent show and played in a bluegrass band. He also played piano bar at Peter’s Lounge in Kelso and sang as a paid vocalist at many local weddings.
“I don’t know how ‘sensational’ I was back then,” he joked, “but people liked me.”
Waggoner’s senior week activities and even finals were cancelled, due to Mt. St. Helens’ eruption. Soon after graduation, he joined the Navy.
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“I didn’t know what I was doing,” career-wise, he said. After two years in the Navy and two years out, he re-joined for six more years. Later, he went to college to become an ER trauma nurse, then a nurse practitioner. Today, he operates a clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, “serving truckers, dairymen, farmers and poor people.”
“It’s $30 per visit — the same price for both,” he joked, comparing a medical appointment’s cost to a “Play Me” show ticket in Longview. Waggoner arranged a special price for his hometown show. Tickets for “Play Me” in Seattle and Portland are about $40.
Besides his medical clinic, Waggoner also operates Boba Cafe & Cabaret in Las Cruces. Along with musical theatre, he has produced shows based on “iconic” figures such as James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Mamas and the Papas and Neil Diamond music.
“People loved the Neil Diamond show,” Waggoner recalled. Two shows sold out. An invitation to do the show as a special benefit concert served as the “catalyst for what became the ‘Play Me’ show,” he said. The show has been well-received and was picked up recently by the prestigious online booking agency, Music Zirconia.
While Waggoner, surprisingly, has never attended a Neil Diamond concert, he patterned “Play Me” after “Love at the Greek,” an album released in 1977, the second album (after “Hot August Night” in 1972) made from a live performance at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. He makes no attempt to impersonate Neil Diamond or exactly copy his style.
“I reflect it,” Waggoner said. “This is more of a show than a concert, more of a performance piece.”
Each of Neil Diamond’s tunes captures a different emotion and tells a different story, he said.
“That’s the beauty of his music. I love that.”
Diamond is “very creative about how he approaches live shows,” Waggoner said. “He changes them up all the time,” and his repertoire contains two or three different versions of certain songs. Diamond’s music is “more complicated and challenging than some people might think.”
Ironically, The Monkees recorded Neil Diamond’s song, “I’m a Believer” in 1966 before Diamond had a chance to make it a hit. Now, 40-some years later, Waggoner will perform “I’m a Believer” in Seattle just two weeks before the Monkees appear there to play it on the same stage.
“It’s a little joke on The Monkees,” he said. Neil Diamond has since recorded “I’m a Believer” on his own albums. “He sings it as a rock song and as a ballad,” Waggoner noted.
“Play Me,” is a tribute show that doesn’t stop until intermission. There’s an overture prior to the second act, typical of musical theatre.
“It’s like going to a Broadway show,” he noted. “You get all the great songs.”
“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers is the show-stopper,” Waggoner said. Local singer Lori Gayle Wilcutts will sing the female part in Longview.
“We get the hard core (fans) and I think we (also) convert people.” And many people who aren’t Neil Diamond fans, per se, still appreciate this show.
“If you love “Sweet Caroline,” Waggoner said, “come see this show, he says to prospective audience members. You’ll love the show even more.”